The Grasshopper War of 1855
and the Provo Sugar Miracle

Ensign, Feb. 1986, 60

. . . During the difficult summer of 1855, the Saints in the new settlement of Provo, Utah, experienced another form of heaven-sent rescue, reports historian Donald Q. Cannon.

"About two-thirds of the grain in Utah county is destroyed," wrote eyewitness George A. Smith, "and a large black bug is devouring the potatoes. All the farms south . . . are nearly a desert. This is rather a dark picture, but I regret to say it is not overdrawn. Myriads of grasshoppers, like snowflakes in a storm, occasionally fill the air . . . as far as the eye can reach." (Works Projects Administration, Provo: Pioneer Mormon City, Portland, Oregon: Binsfords & Mort, 1942, p. 84.)

In addition to grasshoppers and Indians, the Provo settlers had faced other serious threats to their survival. During the severe winter of 1854-55, cattle, sheep, horses, and other animals froze to death. That spring, streams and rivers flooded homes and farms.

Already near poverty level, the grasshopper-stricken Saints had to make do with whatever food they had on hand. Children were not allowed to cook or help with meals for fear of wasting precious flour and sugar.

Then, having prayed for divine help, they experienced a miracle not unlike that of Moses’ people in the Paran Desert. At the end of July 1855, the people of Provo discovered a sugary substance on the leaves of trees near their homes. They called it "honey dew" or "sugar-manna," and word of its discovery spread quickly through the frontier community.

Many speculated on the origin of the sticky, sweet substance. Some maintained that it came from cottonwood leaves; others that it was found on other leaves and even on rocks. Deposits as thick as window glass were reported.

Whatever its nature, the sugar-manna was badly needed. Sugar cost a dollar a pound and was in short supply. So the people set about gathering and processing the sugary substance. Sister Lucy M. Smith, wife of George Albert Smith, described with some pride the process she used:

"We had a very dry warm spring and summer and we were very destitute of sweet, so the Good Provider set HoneyDew to the Cottonwood and willow leaves, and so Brother George Adair and wife, Sister Hannah and myself took the necessary utensils, went among the bushes, cut bows washed off the sugar flakes into tubs, strained the sap, cleansed with milk and eggs then skimmed as it boiled. I understand the process necessary, as I had seen my Mother manufacture sugar from Maple sap. We four worked two days, made 50 lbs of nice sugar, besides feasting on Pancakes and Molasses, and making a quantity of candy for the children.

"Brother Adair carried over tithing to the Bishop, he said ours was the best of any brought in he wished to know the reason, I told him that he had an old sugar hand along that understood the business." ("Historical Record of Lucy M. Smith," Lucy M. Smith Papers, Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.)

Between three and four thousand pounds of sugar was made in this way. When Bishop Elias H. Blackburn of Provo took the tithing sugar to the General Tithing Office in Salt Lake City, he met President Brigham Young, who said that it was sugar from the Lord. (See Thomas C. Romney, The Gospel in Action, Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School, 1949, p. 4.)

Botanist Larry St. Clair notes that a sugary substance commonly accumulates on leaves of trees infested by aphids. But the fact that the Lord may work through natural means does not diminish the miraculous nature of the experience of these faithful Saints.